By Amy Harman, LMFT
Pregnancy is a time when a woman’s body changes dramatically—even miraculously! For some women, this can be a time of wonderment and joy, for others it can be a time for enduring discomfort and quirky bodily symptoms, and still for others it can lead to severe anxiety and fear about their body. For those who have struggled with eating disorders, pregnancy and post-pregnancy can lead to relapse into eating disorder behaviors such as calorie-counting, restricting, purging, over-exercising, and obsession with weight loss. Here are some tips that will help you get through the times when your body is going through those drastic changes during pregnancy:
- You will gain weight, of course. There’s another person growing inside you! Your medical provider will give you a range of how much weight you will likely gain. Remember that this is an AVERAGE! Some women gain more, and some gain less. You can still have a healthy pregnancy even if your weight gain does not fall within this recommendation. Weight is only one indicatory of health.
- You will gain weight in other areas besides your womb. Your body is preparing for nurturing your fetus for nine months, going through the birth process, recovering from birth, and caring for your baby postpartum (breast-feeding). That means that you will see changes in how much fat you store and where you store it. Your body knows what it’s doing, though! Seriously. Just trust it. All these changes are necessary for a healthy baby.
- Don’t be scared of your increased appetite. (After the nauseous stage, that is!) Sometimes women feel bad about themselves when they eat “a lot”. Don’t let extra hunger bother you. When I was pregnant, I remember waking up in the middle of the night, feeling hungry, and getting myself something some food to last until morning. I jokingly referred this to “feeding the baby” because I knew that soon I would be up in the night feeding the baby milk. Listen to your body: eat when you’re hungry, eat what you’re craving, and stop eating when you’re full. Another side note on nutrition: drink plenty of water! This is another necessity for your pregnant body and for the fetus.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable for you and fit you’re pregnant form. The more comfortable you are, the less you have to worry about what you look like. You will already have several other discomforts related to pregnancy; don’t make clothes another one. Borrow maternity clothes from your friends and family. Invest in stretchy skirts (these can work for after you’re pregnant, too). And don’t forget to buy a bigger bra or two. You may even find that you’ll need to buy bigger shoes (or just wear flip flops every single day like my girlfriend did). Your feet may bet bigger from carrying extra weight, and they may swell.
- Don’t compare to other women. This is a body image standard that everyone should follow at all times. Every body is different. Every pregnant body is different. Your body will carry your baby exactly the way it needs to. Your body knows what it’s doing.
- Vow to not know your weight during pregnancy. At your check-ups, get weighed backwards so you can’t see the weight. Let your obstetrician and the nurses know that you do not want to know your weight unless there is a problem. That way you don’t have to worry about what you’re gaining. And obviously if you’re going to these lengths, don’t weight yourself anywhere else, either! This is how I handled my pregnancies, and my obstetrician didn’t mind—not one bit. Weight was NEVER a discussion during our appointments. We were able to talk about other things that were more important.
- Ask the doctor not to tell you how “big” you’re measuring. That way you will have one less fact to compare to other ladies. This measurement is another way to make sure that the baby is growing. It’s not a good predictor for the mother’s health, and it can’t predict when the baby will come.
- Change your exercise routine if you haven’t already. Respect any physical limitations you may have while you are pregnant. Consider taking a class for pregnant women–water aerobics, yoga, etc. Sometimes a short walk may be all you can do—like the extra walking you may do to find a restroom. 🙂
- Get enough sleep. A hard task when you’re pregnant, I know! You will most likely feel more tired. Consider taking a nap during the day or going to bed earlier. The idea behind this is that getting enough rest improves your mood and the way you feel about yourself.
- Accept that some days you’ll just feel awkward in your body. Period. You won’t like the way your clothes fit, you’ll have a bad hair day, etc. Just do your best for the time being, and hope for a better day tomorrow. No one had perfect body image 100% of the time. Try to remember that you’re growing a baby and focus on the time that you’ll get to have with this little person.
- Educate yourself about how your body will change during pregnancy. You can have changes in your skin, hair, breasts, tummy (obviously), veins, and feet. Talk to your health care provider, read a book like this one, and/or visit websites like babycenter.
When you talk to most women who have had babies, they will tell you that all the problems and worries about their bodies during pregnancy were worth it! Bonding with a child is an amazing experience that can start even in the womb. Remember that life is more than what your body looks like, or even what it can do. The relationships we have in this life—especially a mother-child relationship—make life more joyful.